Fiddling While Rome Burns

12 03 2011

On Tuesday night I was booted and suited and striding along Princes Street on my way to the Caledonian Hilton for a drinks reception hosted by CMI-WIM group at which Lady Susan Rice was the guest speaker.

I’d had a productive day and was looking forward to getting out of the rain, to networking in pleasant surroundings, to cocktails and canapes and to hearing what Susan had to say. It was cold and starting to go dark in that sullen way that is peculiar to Scottish cities.

As I strode towards the hotel I passed bundles of humanity huddled against the rain and preparing themselves for the bitter night ahead.

As I passed I was struck by a single thought – one that I haven’t been able to shake – are we fiddling while Rome burns?

This week the New Statesman printed a well written and well argued essay from Natasha Walker in which she details the plight of a woman, Saron, who fled Ethopia and jail, rape and violence only to find that her treatment here in the UK was even worse. As Saron puts it, “ It wasn’t what happened to me at home that broke my spirit it was what happened to me here.”

I am not going to detail her mistreatment here in the UK and her repeated detention at Yarl’s Wood. Hers is not a unique story, would that it were. The mistreatment of women refugees here in the UK is commonplace.

I mention her case, in this week when we celebrates 100 years of International Women’s Day, to suggest that a preoccupation with issues that just affect women in business here in the UK is a tiny part of a much, much bigger picture.

No man is an island and, more crucially if we are to address inequality, neither is any woman.

It is easy to focus on issues that affect one personally. I may have had a good day, or a bad day, but I am always able to come home to a safe place.

We all know, at some level, that women are oppressed in other countries but stories like Sarons show that women can be treated just as brutally here in the UK.

We are all connected and it is incumbent upon all of us to join the dots!

This month’s issue of the3rdi magazine has an article by Ruth Walker highlighting the plight of the Dallits in India. This piece is the first of many and the April issue will be opened up to look at the issues facing women in the wider world and, importantly, explores ways in which we can do something to support women who are not as lucky as we are, as knowledge without action means that we run the risk of fiddling while Rome burns.

The3rdi magazine will continue to develop initiatives to support women in our communities and beyond.

The Inspiring Leaders Foundation will support community projects following the launch event in Edinburgh.

Fair Comment is designed to support community projects in collaboration with the Women’s Fund.

You can support us by joining the co-operative. You will get benefits that support you as an individual and you will support our programmes for women . £50 is not a lot of money but we know that these are difficult times. If you are unable to become a full member then please consider making a donation.

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Outrage is not enough

24 10 2010

Yesterday I was working from home as I was having a new boiler fitted. The installation engineers took 12 hours to fit the boiler and to reduce my home to something akin to Beirut after the fighting stopped. The noise and general disruption meant that I wasn’t able to do the work I had planned and so spent the day catching up on e-mails, checking LinkedIn invitations to connect and in particular I spent more time on Twitter than is safe for one’s sanity.

The tweet doing the rounds concerned 5 kittens that had been found hanged at a shopping centre in Aberdeen. I have no reason to assume that my pals are all ailourophiles or particularly tuned in to grim news so it made me wonder why so many people pass on these types of story. A similar case, but with a happier outcome for the cat concerned, that of the ‘cat in the bin’ dominated the headlines for many days. Is it just that we are a nation of animal lovers? Clearly we can’t all be as the stories of cruelty wouldn’t abound.

So why do stories of cruelty to children, women, the elderly not go viral in the same way. One possibility is that the horror of these stories of these human tragedies is just too great – they are beyond the comprehension of most people. Maybe we don’t pass on these stories as they are just too dreadful. But when these stories are presented to us, as with Baby P and James Bulger, we are all animated beyond belief and the media are encouraged to uncover every grizzly detail for our edification and to fuel the demands for retribution against the perpetrators, whether that be the actual killers or everyone else who is involved, however tangentially, in the story and onto whom we can heap blame.

But when the news becomes old news we all go back to our lives. We all know that there are thousands of children being abused, neglected and mistreated everyday but until and unless a tragedy occurs of the proportions of the Baby P case we trust the authorities to get on with the job of looking after these cases on our behalf so that we don’t have to think about the society we live in and the roles and responsibilities we each have

Greater Manchester Police recently conducted an experiment on Twitter. It released details of every single call that came into the force over a 24 hour period. The idea was to show the public what it had to deal with during the course of a normal day. Most of us don’t give much thought to what the police do on a day to day basis, only concerning ourselves if we are the victims of crime or of police malpractice. This is true for most things. We don’t look for information but are ready to respond when the information is placed right under our noses.

A perfect example of this is the TV fund-raising spectacular. Not many of us wander the streets at night looking for homeless people to help but when Comic Relief brings pictures of hardship into our living room we do, at least, put our hands in our pockets to fund those that do devote their time to offering practical help and support.

I find myself wondering whether it would be useful exercise for social services departments, for example, to undertake a similar experiment to Greater Manchester Police; to tweet the brief details of cases they investigate every day. If we saw the huge list of children who are neglected, abused or simply disadvantaged by living in poverty or in a dysfunctional family, would we create a twitter storm akin to caused by that caused by the death of the 5 kittens.

Maybe if the actual stories of the children suffering in our society were placed right in front of us on our twitter screens we would be moved to act as well as to spread the story – or maybe we prefer not to see the world as it really is.

Outrage is not enough.

We can’t all do everything but we can all do something to engage with the community and society we live in.

It is not acceptable to leave others to manage things for us and then rage when failings result in tragedies.

Outrage is not enough.





Net-working beats networking

7 06 2010

When I think of networking I think of the plethora of networking events and in this respect I am neither a natural or enthusiastic networker. I say this knowing that to most of the hundreds of people I meet each month this will come as a big surprise and may even be heretical for someone in my position, particularly this month, when networking is the theme of the magazine.

I attend many networking events, as delegate or speaker, and have no difficulty approaching people and chatting away. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy the whole networking thing. I don’t. But I do love meeting people. I am genuinely interested in people, how they think, what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations. This is one of the reasons I love working with the3rdi magazine. There are so many interesting women and businesses out there, all with their own fascinating stories. However, you rarely meet people for long enough at most networking events to gain these sort of insights. I make an exception here for Athena. I am a fan. Here there are small groups within the larger grouping and there is a real opportunity to establish long-term business relationships.

However, most networking events are like mornings in the zoo; lots of voices clamouring for attention, all needing to get heard in order to get their reward. In the zoo this is breakfast. For the networker this is the exchange of business cards.

The swapping of contact details, rather than listening to the other person, is the driving factor. Most events will exhort you to bring £10 for coffee and lots of business cards when attending an event. They are more speed dating than long-term relationship. That’s not to say that it is not possible to make a great new contact at a networking event but surely there is a better way to meet your prince than kissing hundreds of frogs?

And that brings me to social networking. What I am going to say is counter-intuitive. I know that as only 6 months ago I was a complete sceptic, no more than that, I was a denier. One of my first blog posts was called Twitter Ye Not, and I detailed my objections to social media in general and twitter in particular. As you can read, I was unconvinced but you will see from the postscript added a couple of months ago, I am now persuaded of the value of social networking for business.

And actually it is more than that. Twitter suits me!

When I first considered the benefit of hearing what anyone had to say in just 140 characters I thought it unlikely that they could say anything of interest in that few words. I reckoned without human ingenuity…..and most communication is managed without annoying teenage textspeak abbreviations. You do have to pick the accounts you follow carefully. The amount of banality and vacuuos nonsense out there is truly mindblowing – there are only so many times I can read “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and other such ludicrous platitudes before I want to throw myself out of the window, taking the tweeter with me!

But the big positive for me is that by following short posts on twitter over a period of a couple of days you can get a far better insight into the person than you can in the business card frenzy that is the networking breakfast. You can choose, from the comfort of your own seat, whether to engage with that person or not, as opposed to being wedged into a corner of a second-rate hote room by a used car salesman or aromatherapist. And most posts come with a link so that you can instantly find out more about the issue, business or person. At an event you have to wait until you get back home and visit the website described on the business card to find out that the international grain merchant you spent the whole event talking to actually runs a bird seed shop in Peckham.

So, I’m a convert, to twitter at least.

If you have got a twitter account yourself then let us know and we can follow each other.

You can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/kebirch and the3rdi at www.twitter.com/the3rdimagazine

See you there





A plea for perspective

1 03 2010

I recently wrote a blog on the tyranny of happy people.

In it I argued that pretending that everyone can get what they want so long as they believe in it enough is not only nonsense but potentially damaging as it absolves us from addressing, and taking responsibility for, the flaws in society that make it almost impossible for some people to lead a happy life.

In February, as with every other month forever, there were many national catastrophes around the world and tales of individual suffering. Yet if you look at Facebook it is full of vacuous soundbites.

“Today I am creating a better world for myself and everyone around me”

“You are here on this Earth to have an amazing life!”

“We are not here to find ourselves but to create ourselves.”

These took me less than two minutes to find – facebook is full of them. These inspirational quotes are fine, we all need a boost sometimes, but the people who post such pieces seem to operate in a vacuum.

Analogy: I am/was a microbiologist. Bacteria are remarkable organisms, not least because of their ability to rapidly develop immunity to antibiotics. No matter how well they adapt they will always be killed by bleach.

And my point is? I suspect that had I been indoors in Haiti’s capital on the morning of the earthquake no amount of positive thinking could have prevented the roof from falling in on top of me.

Yes, we can affect those around us by acting and thinking positively but we should also look beyond our middle-class, middle-Britain lives and see the bigger picture.

In the3rdi magazine this month is a feature about the event Funny Women are mounting on International Womens Day.  Box office proceeds raised on the night will be donated to V-Day UK which is hosted by Tender, a charity that aims to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence.  In 2010 V-Day’s spotlight is on the appalling sexual violence being used as a weapon in an economic war against women and girls of all ages across Eastern Congo (hundreds of thousands have been brutalised).  Shockingly a woman or girl is being raped every half an hour in the Congo.

We need to use our priveleged position, one of relative comfort, plenty and security to allow us to look outwards to other people and other places who may not have our advantages. Positivity and uplifting quotations are all well and good, I use them myself, but they are better when linked to an action and not just repeated as a mantra.





The Tyranny of Twitter

20 01 2010

Pretty much my first ever blog was entitle Twitter Ye Not.  At that time I was unpersuaded that I needed to know what everyone in the world had for breakfast or where they were off to for lunch.

In the months that have passed I have been forced to reconsider my stance as having a presence on social media sites such as twitter and facebook is, I am assured by people who are paid to know these things, essential to the growth of my business.

So I now have a twitter acoount, which I am probably contractually obliged to ask you to follow at http://www.twitter.com/kebirch, and have been shocked/amazed/horrified to discover how enslaving it is. There is a constant, nagging need to check for tweets. It is becoming increasingly difficult to control the urge to check to see if anything has changed since I last looked.  And it is not just me.  My bedroom is below that of my son and most nights I drift off to sleep to the electronic bleep of new messages arriving into his laptop from MSN.

And with social media being used more and more as a tool to promote businesses, the boundaries between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred. It was bad enough in the days when the pager made it possible to be called into work at the weekend but now the mobile phone means many of us are on call 24/7 and the laptop means that our work is always with us.

Technology, as presented in the old BBC programme Tomorrow’s World, was going to make our lives better. But has it?

Certainly it is hard to argue against labour saving devices such as the automatic washing machine over the washtub and mangle but are we endangering the quality of life by ceding so much control of our lives to technology.  Well, people today experience more depression than previous generations and there is a wealth of papers to suggest that people who place value on material goals are unhappier than those that don’t and that lack of a clear division between our home and work environments damage our personal relationships.

Here’s a personal observation. When I was a youngster I would head off in the morning and play out all day, just round and about with friends, maybe coming home for lunch, maybe not. As long as we were home before it got dark my mum didn’t worry. It’s not that she didn’t care but knowing that we were out playing, that we would stay close-ish to home, were pretty sensible and that we’d come home when we were hungry, was enough information. My son, in common with the vast majority of teenagers,  has a mobile phone and we can keep in touch whenever he is away from the house. This should make us modern mums feel more  secure about the safety of our children, knowing that they can get in touch if there is a problem. In fact it has made most of us feel less secure as because they can keep in touch we think that they should and we feel compelled to check for messages all of the time. We feel less secure as we have less control.

It is my belief that, if we are going to take control of our lives we need to take control of the technology we need to think more clinically about what we need to know.

We are available via laptop, phone and via TV 24/7. Most of us will not be able to change that basic situation but it is essential for our mental health that we become better at responding to the valuable and dismissing the useless rather than reacting to each stimulus that the technology sends us as if everything had equal merit.

While I have been writing this I have received 5 new e-mails and 2 linkedin messages. There were 54 additions to my facebook live feed and 78 tweets.

It is up to me what I do with all that information.





Twitter Ye Not

11 11 2009

I don’t twitter
I have never twittered.
I have never been onto the website – honestly-I haven’t

So why am I compelled to write about it?
It’s because I just don’t get it?

It seems to me, admittedly just from what I have heard/read in the media, that because of the limitations in the number of words you can post, twitter is essentially a place to tell people where you are:
I’m in the bath
I’m on the train
I’m in the garden
I’m on the internet

My life is pretty interesting, I’m told, at any rate it interests me, but are the internet masses really interested in my whereabouts or those of anybody else?

I do Facebook, poorly I suspect, because I feel that I should. At least here the is enough space to write about what I am doing;
I am enjoying a relaxing bath at the end of a busy day
I am taking the train down to my parent’s house for the weekend
I am in the garden rooting out ground elder from around the hostas.

That last one is a lie. I hate gardening but it does serve to illustrate how easy it is to tell small lies in order to sound a bit more interesting that you really are!

So Facebook appears marginally more useful and entertaining than twitter. I am unconvinced. One of my facebook friends posted information to the effect that she was having fun programming the autokey on her computer. Maybe I just have odd facebook friends….or at least friends that should get out more!

And here is another odd thing – the concept of “friend”.

Before becoming an overt dating site, Friends Reunited encouraged people who knew each other at some point, or at least who shared a history, they lived in the same street, went to the same school, to make a connection. But facebook friends? I don’t have many facebook friends and the majority of those are people who I’ve never met, though it is true that we do often have interests or enthusiasms or prejudices in common.

The old saying has it that “a stranger is a friend that you haven’t yet met”. What then a friend that you are never likely to meet?

I do Flickr. I have a genuine, though thoroughly amateur interest in, photography. On flickr it is also possible to connect with people from all over the world, the majority of whom you will never meet. The difference here is that the common interest has already been established, taking photographs, and there is a clear platform for friendship. Tellingly, flickr terms the connections you make “contacts” not friends, and while this is less, well, friendly, it feels more appropriate. Even on flickr I don’t have a huge number of contacts. I could have. Flickr does not require someone that you tag as a contact to confirm or accept the approach. So anyone can have hundreds of contacts…..but why would you? Some people do.

And here I think we might be getting somewhere. Lots of people have lots of contacts, lots of on-line friends – are these really just “pretend friends” like children conjure up to help them through their early years?

I have listened to several radio presenters over the past few months urging people to follow them on twitter. I will leave aside the morality of a state funded broadcaster shamelessly promoting the services of a commercial organisation. And the reason they gave for asking for listeners to twitter was “to have more followers (fans/friends) than Stephen Fry.

So there we have it. If you have more followers than Stephen Fry you must be more popular than Stephen Fry. Who wouldn’t want to be more popular than the lovely Uncle Stephen but will having thousands of listeners following you on twitter REALLY make you more popular? Will it really make you more real friends? Will it really make you a better person? Or is it all down to insecurity and ego?
Ah, but I am writing a blog. If I don’t think it is important or interesting for people to know where I am (I am on a train) or what I’m doing ( I am on a train heading down to see my parents), why on earth should I suppose that anyone is the least bit interested in what I think?

Well, maybe you are, you’ve got this far.
Or maybe you are not and have stumbled onto word number 746 entirely by accident. In my defence I have always found that writing things down is a good way to get my own thoughts into some kind of order. Now, thanks to the internet, or at least because of the internet, I can share my ramblings with the planet, though I do know that 98% of blogs aren’t read by anyone but the blogger!

I suppose that the best bloggers fall into the same category as the great diarists like Johnson and Pepys. Great diarists are still around. If you don’t believe me have a look at The New Statesman.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression, though I probably already have, that I am a complete Luddite. After all I am the managing editor for the 3rdi.co.uk and the associated social networking site at youcubed.co.uk and in the recent past I founded and ran a multi-million pound internet retail business.

The point I am trying to make is that there has to be a point! At the magazine we are aiming to cover all aspects of work from a woman’s viewpoint. With the social networking site we encourage comment on the articles in the magazine. There is a point to what we do on the web. But twitter seems to me like an end in itself. Would the world be a worse place without it? Would your life be enhanced by knowing that Stephen Fry was at the dentist?

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Postscript 2010

BUT….and it is a very BIG but…..all of the above are hugely important and valuable business tools so, while I am personally sceptical about their value to me as an individual I am now convinced of their value to my business, and so should you be if you are running a business.

So watch this space…or follow me on twitter x